About 1,300 years ago a woman who lived in Egypt and was buried on the bank of the Nile River sought the protection of Saint Michael the Archangel. It was not enough to wear a talisman, instead she tattooed his name on her skin in order to invoke this mighty, angelic warrior.
The mummified remains of an Egyptian woman dating back to 700 A.D., discovered in a cemetery near the bank of the Nile revealed a surprising discovery, which was that she bore a tattoo of the Archangel Michael on her thigh.
The woman was about 5'2" tall and was found in 2005 on an archaeological dig in a cemetery in Sudan on the banks of the Nile River. CAT scans performed in 2014, by the British Museum revealed that the woman, who lived about 1300 years ago, had the tattoo high on her inner thigh (whether it was meant to be seen remains unknown). It is believed she was between 20 to 35 years of age.
Researchers point out that regular Egyptians – not only the royals – were mummified.
The woman’s body was wrapped in a woolen and linen cloth before burial, and her remains were mummified in the desert heat. As deciphered by curators, the tattoo on her thigh, written in ancient Greek, reads Μιχαήλ, transliterated as M-I-X-A-H-A, or Michael. It features a cross on top of a symbol representing the Archangel Michael. It combines in one symbol the letters forming the name Michael (MIXAHΛ) in Greek or Coptic (both languages use a very similar alphabet).
The tattoo suggests that the Sudanese woman was of Christian faith, and may have hoped to place herself under the protection of the Archangel, one of the patron saints of Nubia.
The monogram of Saint Michael has been discovered in Nubia, where it was found on the walls of churches and on pottery, but researchers were surprised to find it on a tattoo.
The use of tattoos to indicate one’s faith continues to be popular among Copts today, many of whom have a small cross tattooed inside the wrist
According to a theology professor at Fordham Univeristy, "There was a sizable Christian population in Egypt in the 700s, perhaps close to a majority of the population. Like Greeks and Romans across the Mediterranean, the portion of the population that was literate was fascinated by the shapes of letters and delighted in making designs with letters in names. Hence, we have the odd shape of the tattoo composed of the letters.”
Placing the name of a powerful heavenly protector on one's body by a tattoo or amulet was very common in antiquity.
This same professor said, "Christian women who were pregnant often placed amulets with divine or angelic names on bands on their abdomens to insure a safe delivery of their child. Placing the name on the inner thigh, as with this mummy, may have had some meaning for the hopes of childbirth or protection against sexual violation, as in ‘This body is claimed and protected.’ Michael is an obvious identity for a tattoo, as this is the most powerful of angels.”
Christian Gnostics, religious cultists in that era, were especially interested in the names and functions of intermediary beings between humans and the divine.
Christians were not the only ones to use the names of angelic powers in ancient days. Jews of antiquity were fascinated by the identity and nature of angels.
A version of this article appeared in the Telegraph
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